Passover is still several weeks away. We have time to think about how we’ll talk about our flight to freedom at this year’s Seder.
Even if you’re not Jewish, you probably know that the Passover Seder is a ritual retelling (and reliving) of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
All good stories have a beginning, a middle and an end, and so does this one:
- Israel arrives in Egypt
- Israel is enslaved by Egypt, and
- (finally! triumphantly!) with a little divine help, Israel is freed from tyranny.
More prayers. A few more songs.
But, the narrative part of the Seder ends on that ecstatic note.
Sort of like that moment in The Graduate, when Dustin Hoffman bangs on the window of the church, Katharine Ross turns from the altar, and the two of them make a run for it, the Egyptians trapped in the Red Sea, crucifix barring the doors.
But, the story of a free Israel didn’t really end that way.
And I’m not talking about the whole catastrophe of modern Jewish history. I mean the Exodus itself didn’t end with that moment. It wasn’t all milk and honey right away.
Problem is, even the wimpiest seder is long enough as it is.
Who has the strength to talk about forty years in the wilderness? We can either have dinner, finally, or keep talking. Tales about cranky, rebellious, ungrateful Israelites and that nasty incident with the golden calf would just bring everybody down. Nobody wants to remember that Moses “saw the people were out of control…so that they were a menace to any who might oppose them.”
So, this night is different from all other nights, in part, because we let ourselves graduate from bondage without the postscript; we skip that after-the-mad-dash-to-freedom scene on the bus, when the young couple looks scared and confused and uncomfortable as they enter the world of their choices.
To be fair to our traditions, we do extrapolate a good deal from our literal Pharoah to the infinite varieties of oppression in the world today.
The invocation to our Seder ends with these words:
We are reminded this night that we cannot truly be free as long as others are enslaved. The message our Haggadah proclaims is a song of universal freedom.
It’s obvious how we must extrapolate this year. So I’m thinking about it.
Today, I asked my son: “Now that Egyptians have fled their metaphorical Egypt, where do you suppose they’ll go?”
In other words: Yes, but is it good for the Jews?
“Mother, if you are suggesting anything but rejoicing at Mubarak’s resignation, you’re just a hypocrite.”
This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt.
Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.